getting students to read what's assigned
Teaching Strategies and Techniques

10 Strategies for Promoting Accountability and Investment in Reading Assignments

As teachers, we see value in what we assign students, but students don’t always appreciate the relevance or understand the purpose of their assignments. Required readings are a great example of this disconnect. However, when students have some input into their learning, their response to assignments (yes, even reading assignments) changes. Rather than requiring fill-in-the-blank reading guides or giving weekly quizzes to “motivate” students to do assigned readings, professors can give students some alternatives. We can design those alternatives to give students greater choice and responsibility for their learning, thereby making the assignments more meaningful. Here is a collection of reading assignment alternatives we use and recommend.

  1. Non-structured Notes: Allow students to submit notes on assigned readings in various formats. These formats may include a detailed outline, graphic organizer, poster, summary paragraphs, or other visual representations of the material. Different format samples can be shared with the entire class or within small groups to stimulate discussion of the readings.

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Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Using Reading Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

“Students can critically read in a variety of ways:

  • When they raise vital questions and problems from the text,
  • When they gather and assess relevant information and then offer plausible interpretations of that information,
  • When they test their interpretations against previous knowledge or experience …,
  • When they examine their assumptions and the implications of those assumptions, and
  • When they use what they have read to communicate effectively with others or to develop potential solutions to complex problems.” (p. 127)

And don’t we all wish our students read this way! Unfortunately most of them don’t, and the challenge is finding those strategies and approaches that help them develop these sophisticated reading skills. Terry Tomasek, who crafted this description of critical reading, proposes one of those kinds of strategies.

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cheating scenarios
Classroom Climate

Scenarios: Is It Cheating?

The collection of cheating scenarios provided below are adapted from a variety used in research on academic integrity. What makes these scenarios such helpful learning tools is their identification of specific behaviors and the context in which they occur. Some of the scenarios also highlight the involvement of enablers, those who make the cheating possible or increase the likelihood of success.

Scenarios like these can be used in a variety of different ways. Here are some suggestions.

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Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Creating a Respectful Community: Lessons from the Middle East

My family and I have had the privilege of living in the Middle East for nearly three decades. In addition to the extraordinary Arab hospitality we have enjoyed, it also has been a time of learning. Many of my parochial assumptions have been challenged, not the least being my understandings about teaching and learning.

A notable feature of education in the region (as in much of the world) is an emphasis on rote learning. I received the bulk of my formal education in Australia and United States—countries where there is a strong focus on the development of autonomy through critical thinking. With some ethnocentric arrogance, I initially viewed the local education systems here in the Middle East as backward and destructive. These systems resulted from and contributed to the sort of authoritarian dictatorships that prevail in many parts of the world.

Over time, however, I have gained a more nuanced appreciation of local learning approaches and I believe there are elements that Western educators may do well to consider or reconsider.

In his seminal work on intercultural rhetoric, Robert Kaplan offers a set of foundational questions: (1) What may be discussed? (2) Who has the authority to speak/write? (3) What form(s) may the writing take? (4) What is evidence? (5) What arrangement of evidence is likely to appeal (be convincing) to readers?

The answers to these questions are profoundly shaped by culture. In particular, I am struck by the fundamentally different understandings of the first two questions in collectivist and individualistic societies. In individualistic societies, such as Australia and United States, the normative assumption is that it is right and healthy to promote the development of a strong autonomous voice in students. We encourage students to speak with confidence, question assumptions, and challenge those in authority.

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Preparing to Teach

Syllabus Format May Enhance Understanding of Course Requirements

Over the years, course syllabi have evolved from a simple document that outlines course objectives and requirements to an intimidating, multi-paged contract of terms and conditions for successful course completion. A number of writers have proposed syllabus makeovers, including some who’ve suggested the syllabus be offered in newsletter style. Others have proposed quizzing students on the syllabus as a way to encourage them to read it carefully.

We decided to try these two ideas and investigate if they helped students understand four essential course requirements: course objectives, course policies, procedures for late work, and the number of exams. Each of us created one traditional course syllabus and one graphically enhanced syllabus in newsletter format, randomly distributing each type on the first day of class. We quizzed students on the course requirements on the second day of class. Both syllabi contained identical content.

The newsletter syllabi were designed using a newsletter template readily available in word processing programs. The essential elements of the syllabus were placed in boxes, enhanced with graphic elements, and written in different fonts. We tried for designs that highlighted important parts and were graphically pleasing to read.

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Classroom Climate

Earning Students’ Trust in Your Teaching

A month into last fall’s first-year writing course, one of my students emailed me and politely explained that he found one of the reading assignments offensive.

We met in person to discuss his concerns. On some level, our conversation was productive. I explained my reasons for assigning the reading, and he shared his concerns in more detail with me. Still, the encounter troubled me.

It underscored for me the dangers of students losing trust in their instructors’ ability and willingness to teach them well. Low student confidence in teachers and their choices for class assignments and activities means low engagement, and students who are not engaged in class do not learn. To support learning, then, it is crucial that we earn our students’ trust. We need to teach in such a way that students are willing to follow our lead in the readings, projects, and activities we assign, believing that the work we’re asking them to do will help guide their development, both academically and personally.

We lose student confidence on two levels. Some students mistrust our pedagogy. They find an assignment unhelpful or frustrating; I have had students tell me, in class, that an assignment is confusingly written. Sometimes these concerns are warranted; and we all have had to revise or scrap assignments that didn’t work properly. But even if the concerns aren’t warranted, even if we’re using tried-and-true methods and assignments, the fact remains that some students will feel that our teaching is not helping them learn. Yet other students will mistrust our ideology, fearing that the readings and projects assigned threaten their own beliefs. They see our teaching as designed not to support their growth but to advance our own agenda.

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Technology

Easy Methods for Using Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality in Your Teaching

The terms “virtual,” “augmented,” and “mixed” reality have been thrown around a lot lately in education, leaving many instructors understandably perplexed over their different meanings. Worse yet, discussions of these concepts often fail to adequately disconnect them from their gaming origin, making one wonder whether they have useful applications to education. The good news is that there are many educational uses of these applications, and a world of free educational content available to instructors. Better yet, most of these applications do not require expensive goggles or other equipment for making or viewing content.

Virtual reality
The term “virtual reality” has gone through three iterations. The first referred to an animated world that the user entered through their computer by taking the form of an avatar representation of themselves. Second Life was the most famous of these systems. Users could build homes and other structures, as well as interact with one another within the world.

A number of educational institutions started using into Second Life, most using it for recruiting purposes by designing a mockup of one of their halls that prospective students could explore. Champlain College went a step further by connecting its site to its gaming program. Students would learn to create game elements by adding to the school’s Second Life site, designing new buildings and even a concert venue that hosted live concerts put on by local musicians. Jean Haefner at the University of Wisconsin–Stout built a gallery for students in her art and design class to allow students to have the experience of a virtual art exhibition, including interaction with the public who asked questions of the students. Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson created a space to broadcast lectures and hold discussions for his class Cyber One: Law in the Court of Public Opinion.

These early efforts eventually fizzled out due to the need for specialized programming skills to build the virtual worlds and falling pubic interest in Second Life itself. Virtual reality then reinvented itself by allowing participants to become their avatar’s virtual reality goggles. The user completely immersed themselves in a virtual world where the system would detect the user’s body movements to translate them into sword swings and the like. This added an exciting kinetic experience to virtual reality, so much so that because the user could not see their immediate surroundings the systems needed to project virtual walls around the user to avoid having them put a foot through a television set or the like.

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Classroom Climate

Fact Sheet on Cheating in College

Cheating and its related issues have been studied extensively for decades. There’s an overwhelming amount of literature. However, results from the past and the present confirm that cheating has been and continues to be a serious problem in higher education.

Here’s an overview of what’s been studied and is known about cheating. The answers provided are broadly supported by the research and illustrated here with brief highlights from a few sample studies. This overview focuses on work published since 2000. Plenty of good research was done before then and is well summarized by McCabe, Trevino, and Butterfield (2001). The findings reported previously continue to be supported by more recent research.

How widespread is cheating? It depends on the study but most report the percentage of students who cheat in the 50-90% range.

Cheating in classrooms

  • 75% of 824 students in 14 different graduate and undergraduate business classes. (Chapman, David, Toy, and Wright, 2004)
  • 5% of all students at a small liberal arts institution. Cheaters were defined as students who more than once engaged in any one of 17 cheating behaviors. (Kidwell, Wozniak and Laurel, 2003)
  • 92% of students surveyed in an online business course had cheated or knew someone who had (Jones, 2011)
  • 86% of a 268-student cross disciplinary sample reported they had cheated (Klein, et. al. 2006)

Cheating in online courses

  • Almost 75% of a cohort of 121 undergraduate business students believe that was easier to cheat in online courses than in traditional classrooms (King, Guyette, Piotrowski, 2009).
  • When 84 MBA and undergraduate business were asked, 47% of MBA students and almost 38% of undergraduates thought it was easier to cheat in online courses (Larkin and Mintu-Wimsatt, 2015)

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student participation
Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Question of the Day Promotes Class Participation

Most of us have experienced the dreaded quiet class. Typically, it’s the class where only a few students speak and it’s always the same three or four. Everyone else sits passively and waits out the clock. For those classes and others, I’ve found a question of the day an effective method of promoting participation.

It’s an approach that gets students thinking and speaking on a course-related topic. The expectations are that everyone speaks and all answers are accepted and welcome. Sometimes the question of the day assesses student’s prior knowledge of the topic; sometimes it asks for an opinion, and sometimes it asks for an application of a course concept. Typically, the class session starts with the question of the day. I use it to set the day’s learning purpose. Each student provides a brief response, typically taking no more than 20 seconds.

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Reflections

A University Professor Teaches in the K-12 Classroom

During my recent sabbatical, I had the unique opportunity to teach full-day sessions for 14 weeks in two different K-12 settings. Here’s how that happened. I decided to propose this unique sabbatical project because my students regularly asked me about the clinical experience phase of the university’s library science program. The prospect of taking PRAXIS exams (two are required for library science certification) in a testing center and completing background checks and required Pennsylvania Department of Education paperwork were all student stressors. And although those of us teaching in the program can explain and mentor student teaching experiences in a library setting, our students knew very well that most of us had done our student teaching many years prior. Since then, the overall process has evolved to include complications such as required certification tests, background checks, fingerprints, and such. More to the point, I wanted to actually live the experience as a student might.

I didn’t arrive at my faculty position in this department via the more traditional route. I came to university teaching by way of the military, time in corporate America, and teaching at a community college. At this point, I do have a couple of master’s degrees, higher education teaching experience, and am a practicing and certified Pennsylvania Professional Public Librarian, but before my sabbatical I was not K-12 certified. Once my sabbatical project was approved I set out to “walk the walk,” doing the same steps required of our teacher candidates. First, there was some additional course work I needed to fill in certain gaps in my higher education-focused master’s degree in library science. Accordingly, to prepare for the sabbatical, I completed four courses outside the library science domain. Next, I obtained the clearances I did not yet possess or were not current enough to satisfy school district requirements, completed the requisite medical exams, and processed the paperwork at the sponsoring school district in order to be voted in and invited as a “student” teacher by the schoolboard.

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